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Nara Park, Flavor Town: 3 Spots With Heaps of Traditional Food & Heaps of Personality!

Nara Park, Flavor Town: 3 Spots With Heaps of Traditional Food & Heaps of Personality!

Date published: 27 February 2020

Located in the southeastern part of Nara Park, Naramachi is a popular area having such attractions as the World Heritage Site Gango-ji Temple and Nara City Naramachi Koshino Ie [lattice house] as well as various gourmet spots. Here we will introduce three shops in the Naramachi neighborhood where you can enjoy lunches made with Nara ingredients.

1.Awa Naramachi Shop: Fully enjoy Yamato Vegetables and Yamato Beef courses

The first shop being introduced is the Awa Naramachi Shop where you can taste Yamato Vegetables, the traditional vegetables of Nara. It is about a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station and located in a 140-year-old machiya [merchant house], an old-style house, in Naramachi that has been renovated. The two syllables of the name of the shop Awa, "A" and "wa", in combination could also represent "the harmonious beginning of everything", according to the owner.

Only additive-free locally grown Yamato vegetables and vegetables from other parts of the world are used. In the relaxing atmosphere of an old-style house like this it is easy to sit back and let the time go by.

▲ The store, which is a renovated merchant house, looks tranquil. When you pass under the shop curtain you come to a long, narrow passageway called an unaginonedoko [place where eels sleep].

Slide the clattering door open and walk straight back along the corridor to the rear. There are counter seats on the left-hand side and the chef will raise his head in greeting.

▲In the very back there are table seats in the refurbished area that was once the storehouse. There is also a Japanese-style room that can be used as a private room.

This is the Yamato Beef and Vegetables course costing 3,900 yen (without tax) that I ordered. It consisted of Yamato vegetables, vegetables from other parts of the world, and Yamato beef. A sumptuous lunchtime meal is one of the joys when traveling. I wanted to savor each and every bite.

▲The course consisted of a hanako [flower basket], simmered assorted vegetables, Yamato beef, winter melon in vinegar soy sauce, unpolished rice, Japanese yam in miso soup, a ginger canelé and fruit for dessert, and a drink after the meal (varies depending on the season)

The hanako this day consisted of 9 dishes. Especially recommended are the Yamato vegetable dishes Himo Togarashi [elongated red pepper] and deep-fried silken tofu; a side dish of Yamato-mana, which closely resembles Japanese mustard spinach; and bitter gourd in sesame sauce, a summer seasonal dish. Sampling a variety of vegetables one at a time is definitely one way to enjoy a sumptuous lunch.

▲In addition to the vegetable dishes there are also other dishes such as the Beef Shigureni [quick-stew] and Yamato Roast Beef. Both are thoroughly filling.

Next was a dish of Yamato vegetables simmered together. The nine types of ingredients all cooked together included Awamochi [millet dough cake], made from locally harvested millet, frozen tofu, and Yamato vegetables. The soup thickened with kudzu [arrowroot] is accented with spicy Japanese peppercorns. The carefully cultivated Japanese peppercorns give it a rich, sophisticated flavor that goes well with the gentle taste of the soup.

▲Carrots, Yamato round eggplants, squash, Northern Ruby (potatoes), white okra and other vegetables are all obtained from fields managed by the shop or from local farmers.

The main dish is Wagyu Beef Toban-yaki [cooked in an earthenware pot] Steak. The unique feature of Yamato beef is its lean and not too fatty bold flavor. It comes with three types of seasonings: salt, Kinzanji miso, and ponzu. The Kinzanji miso imparts a sweet, full-bodied flavor and goes very well with the meat and is most delicious.

▲You can cook the Wagyu Beef Toban-yaki Steak the way you like it.

The owner believes it is important to help more people learn about traditional vegetables. Towards that end Awa began conducting research and study of traditional vegetables at a place called Kiyosumi no Sato located in the outskirts of Nara City. The village, set among the pastoral landscape that appears unchanged since ancient times, continues to this day to grow "Yamato vegetables that will make families happy."

▲At Awa the seeds of Yamato vegetables and vegetables from other parts of the world are cultivated. By entrusting the seeds to reliable farmers the cultivation of Yamato vegetables is gradually being expanded.
▲Mr. Daisuke Atarashi, the head chef and manager, turns these freshly harvested vegetables into delicious dishes.

In addition to the lunch course there are the Awa Harvest Festival offering Yamato vegetables in a more casual arrangement, 2,900 yen; the Awa Yamato and World Vegetables course, 3,900 yen; and the Awa Naramachi Shop full lunch course offering Yamato vegetables and Yamato beef, 5,000 yen (all prices do not include tax).

Awa Naramachi Shop offers carefully prepared delicious dishes made from the traditional vegetables of Nara that have been handed down through the years which families can eat without worry. Please come and try the high-quality Yamato beef and Yamato vegetables that are in season.

  • Awa Naramachi Shop
    粟 ならまち店
    • Address 1 Shonamicho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture
    • Phone Number 0742-24-5699
    • Hours: 11:30 a.m. ~ 3:00 p.m. (L.O. 2:00 p.m.), 5:30 p.m. ~ 10:00 p.m. (L.O. 9:00 p.m.) ※ Reservations required both for lunch and dinner
      Closed: Tuesdays

2. Pokupoku: Incredible Yamato pork tonkatsu [pork cutlet] seasoned with salt

The next establishment on our list is Pokupoku which serves dishes featuring Yamato pork, a pork brand designated by Nara Prefecture. This shop, operated by a married couple, can accommodate about 12 people in its cozy atmosphere. It is always fully booked and during the tourist season and weekends, there is a two-week wait for reservations for 3 or more people.

▲The sign outside the shop in front of the door warmly welcomes customers.
▲The interior of the shop has a simple yet warm atmosphere. Coeds from the nearby college often frequent the shop.

The shop offers tonteki [sautéed pork loin] and shogayaki [pork ginger], but the most popular dish is the tonkatsu [pork cutlet]! The owner mastered his skills working in Japanese-style restaurants and hotel restaurants and only uses Yamato pork loin in his dishes. Only the finest quality Yamato pork obtained from reliable sources through his own independent channels is used for the cutlets which, after coated in coarse bread crumbs, are deep-fried in oil.

Customers can order either 80-gram, 120-gram, 150-gram, or 200-gram cutlets according to their preference. I selected the 120-gram size which is said to be the most popular.

▲ A pork cutlet sizzling in the fryer. The aroma of the Yamato pork fills the air

The proprietor, who also loves pork cutlets, has researched the nutritional value so as to enable as many people as possible to enjoy the healthy benefits of pork. He points out that pork cutlets contain oleic acid and linoleic acid which are good for your health. It also contains vitamin B1 which relieves fatigue, so it's a good idea to eat a delicious pork cutlet when you feel tired.

▲ The cutlet cooks for an amazingly short period of time. After many years of experience, the chef has exquisite timing so he knows at a glance when it is done.
▲The knife makes a delightful crunching sound as it slices through the meat. One could say that tonkatsu is a dish that delights the five senses.

The set menu includes tonkatsu, mekabu tea, a large salad, a side dish, rice mixed with other types of grains, a clear soup, and black oolong tea. Many types of seasonal vegetables are used in the clear soup such as okra, seaweed, yoshino konjac, shimeji mushrooms, Jew's mallow, and new burdock. Most surprising about this elegant and savory soup which reflects the culinary skills of Japanese-style cuisine is its very affordable price.

▲ The crisply coated 120-gram pork cutlet eaten with salt set: 1,600 yen (excluding tax). The Tappuri [ample] Salad is a mountain of chopped cabbage, wasabina [leaf mustard], beefsteak plant, red onions, and red cabbage.

The cutlet is served straight out of the fryer. In order to get the most flavor out of Yamato pork fat, salt rather than sauce is the preferred condiment here. The Yamato pork loin though juicy is not heavy. I ate it with relish because the salt brought out the sweet flavor of the fat. This tonkatsu tasted completely different from any others I have had! It really left a lasting impression!

▲The juicy pork fat was to die for! Yet it is so light and crispy on the outside, even women can easily eat it.

Other dishes included on the menu are the Umami Tappuri Tonteki Set [Tonteki full of flavor set] from 1,600 yen (including tax) and the Yawaraka Nikuatsu Shogayaki Set [Tender thick-cut pork ginger set] which uses an unusually thick cut of meat, and that starts from 1,600 yen (including tax). Both come in three sizes: 120-gram, 150-gram, and 200-gram.

Incidentally, the mekabu tea that is served here is recommended to try first because it is said to keep blood pressure from rising.

The policy of this shop is to provide customers with the best hospitality by looking after their every need. I hope that it will be able to maintain this spirit in the future, too. It is that quality of the shop master that keeps customers coming back time and again. Unfortunately there is only a limited amount of Yamato pork that can be served each day, so it is best to request it when you make reservations in advance.

  • Pokupoku
    ぽくぽく
    • Address 23 Shonamicho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture
    • Phone Number 0742-31-2537
    • Hours: 11:30 a.m. ~ until supplies run out, 5:30 p.m. ~ 8:30 p.m. (L.O. 7:30 p.m. or when supplies run out) * Reservations are given priority at both lunch and dinner
      Closed: Tuesdays, the first Monday of the month, and at unscheduled times

3.Quiche Specialty Shop Le Case: Offering flavors special to the season

3.Quiche Specialty Shop Le Case: Offering flavors special to the season
▲The aesthetics of harmony are evident in its fashionable exterior

Finally let’s turn to Quiche Specialty Shop Le Case located within Nara Park. The shop was opened in December 2011 by the proprietor who previously cooked Italian dishes. Colorful quiches line the showcase inside the shop, a renovated old-style house near the foot of Mount Wakakusa. The selection on display varies from day to day depending on the seasonal vegetables available locally. For that reason there is always a new selection awaiting you when you visit.

▲The Minamis, who own and operate the shop, "hope that children will eat quiche which is full of nutritious vegetables"
▲There are three tables that seat two each inside the shop. An antique lamp hangs from the ceiling.
▲ There is also a tatami space in the rear where you can leisurely relax.

Normally there are about 15 types of quiche on display, all made with freshly picked seasonal vegetables obtained from local farmers with whom they have contracts. Many of these are limited to the season and when we visited in August there was a wide selection of chilled quiche made with traditional Nara vegetables such as Yamato round eggplant and corn.

▲A wide variety of quiches arranged in the showcase (from 450 yen each, tax not included). So many to choose from!

As with cakes selected in a patisserie, you can either take out your purchase or eat it in a lunch set inside the shop, which is what we did.

We ordered the Quiche Lunch A which cost 1,600 yen (excluding tax). You can select any quiche you like from the showcase. Since we were in Nara, we naturally selected the Yamato Round Eggplant Melanzane Quiche. The set also included a soup, small pasta and seasonal vegetables. Afterwards you have a choice of coffee, tea, or apple juice.

▲The soup that came with the set was a chilled potato soup. It came with a consommé and tomato gelato.

The chilled consommé went well with the chilled and rich potato soup. Taken together with the tomato jelly it produced a tarter and cleaner flavor. I really liked it! The type of soup changes according to the season, so I would really like try some of the others sometime. I’d be willing to come back just for the soup.

Finally we come to the main quiche dish. The quiche is so adorned with vegetables you can hardly see it. Among those included were carrots, okra, squash, and eggplant. Each one had a rich vegetable flavor! It came with a mustard-flavored marinade that was very refreshing.

▲ The quiche dish plate. In the forefront are grilled vegetables and mustard-flavored marinade; the quiche is topped with crisp, new vegetables and marinade; a small pasta (olequette)

The plump Yamato round eggplant goes very well with the quiche and gives the Yamato Round Eggplant Melanzane Quiche (550 yen each, tax excluded) a mellow flavor. The lightly grilled and garnished sweet Yamato round eggplant is quite sumptuous.

I also tried the Chilled Quiche Caprese (600 yen, tax not included) which is very popular with ladies. The quiche made with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella cheese is a delight to behold.

▲ The tomatoes are a vivid red. The mozzarella cheese and tomatoes go very well together.

When you bite into it, the quiche is chilled and the sweetness of the tomatoes is clearly evident. And it has a truly rich tomato flavor! The flavor of the cheese lingers to the end. This would go perfectly with a glass of wine.

There is also a take-out lunch box for 1,100 yen (tax not included) but it needs to be reserved by 3:00 p.m. the previous day. I recommend getting one and eating it in Nara Park.

Careful attention is paid to the delicious flavor of the seasonal ingredients and as much as possible organic vegetables are use, so this is really a quiche you should try at least once.

  • Quiche Specialty Shop Le Case
    キッシュ専門店 レ・カーセ
    • Address 158 Kasugano-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture (inside Nara Park)
    • Phone Number 0742-26-8707
    • Hours: 10:00 a.m. ~ 5:00 p.m. (L.O. 4:00 p.m.)
      Closed: Tuesdays and last Monday of the month

How did you like these places recommended for lunch in the Naramachi neighborhood? If you happen to be sightseeing in Nara, then enjoy a sumptuous lunch made with locally famous ingredients while you are there.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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